Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Child Marriages in Yemen as of 2012

All over the world, the Yemeni female experience is affiliated with the retrogressive practice of child marriages. The international community is bewildered by stories like I am Nujood, age 10 and divorced by Nujood Ali, The Tears of Sheba by Khadija Al-Salami, and Sold by Zana muhsen that tell heart-breaking details of a lost childhood. The World Press Photo award given to Stephanie Sinclair was for a photo of two child brides alongside their husbands in Hajjah (pictured above). Since the start of 2012, according to Dr. Abdurrahman Suwaileh, three young girls in the governorate of Ammran committed suicide to escape their marriages while in another governorate a 13-year-old bride bled to death after her husband had relations with her. Ironically, even Yemen’s most notorious female killer, Aminah Al-Tuhaif, was a child who murdered her husband at the age of 11. Yemeni women of different economic and social backgrounds suffer at the hands of this customary practice. If unwarranted death or emotional turmoil of females is not a deterrent, then it is necessary to distinguish this practice as an obstacle in the path of the educational, medical and judicial advancement of the entire nation.
Child marriages is not just a cultural practice that is discriminatory against women, it is also a contributing factor to Yemen’s high population. According to the UN, 75% of Yemen’s population is under the age of 30 making it the 2nd youngest population in the world. Only 9.3% of all women ages 15 to 49 use a modern form of contraceptive, so it is not surprising that 45.1% of all women aged 20 to 24 gave birth before the age of 20. Moreover, the average Yemeni mother has about 5.5 children. The Mother Mortality Ratio is 430 per 100,000. If the mothers are not risking their own lives, then they are risking the lives of their children, as the estimated number of infant deaths under 12 months (infant mortality rate) in 2009 was 58.4 per 1,000 (USAID). Furthermore, almost 1 million children under the age of five are acutely malnourished and by 2030 the population would be 50 million. Today, with increased conflict and a fragile economy, more than ⅕ of the population is living in conditions of severe food poverty (World Food Programme).
The UNICEF revealed that in 2006, 14% of all females in Yemen were married before the age 15, while 52% were married before the age of 18 (Human Rights Watch). Child marriages remain one of the biggest impediments to female education. Ironically, it is a cause and symptom of this problem. Women’s literacy is 28.5%, compared to 69.5% for males. The Gender Inequality Index ranks Yemen as country number 138 out of 138 with the highest illiteracy rates among females. Only 5% of women who finish high school become income earners. These statistics are astounding if viewed from western eyes, however, for Yemeni women it is nothing more than a deteriorating reality as more than 16% of the population lives with less than $1 a day.
Many NGOs and Yemeni female activists are aware of the challenges standing in the path of Yemeni women. Shortly after receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, journalist Tawakkol Karman rallied on the streets of Yemen on December 10th demanding that this cultural practice be changed and that a minimum marriage age be set. Hooria Mashoor, Minister of Human Rights in the current Interim Government, has been a lifelong activist against child marriages and has worked previously with the Women’s National Committee (WNC) to draft a law that set the marriage age to 17. Jamela Saleh Al-Raiby, Deputy Minister of Public Health and Population, shared with numerous agencies her concerns and opposition to the practice. Oxfam, USAID, WNC, Yemen Women Union (YWU), UNICEF, Equality Now and WRA-Yemen (9 governmental institutions, seven NGOs and five Elected Individuals) failed in changing the reality of young (and poor) Yemeni girls. It is important that this transitional period provide transparent laws that clearly dictate the rights of women.

Child Marriages and Law:
Prior to the Unification of 1990, the conditions of women was dichotomous due to their political realities. In the Marxist South, the PDRY considered women workers with equal rights as men, as they abolished polygamy (except in cases where the wife was sterile), and prohibited talaq (man initiated Islamic divorce) which became strictly a court matter. On the other hand, in the North, the marriage age, for males and females, was legally set at 15 years old; however, it was not enforced. At times, when a family matter did not seem to be explained in the law, the adjudication was in the hands of the qadis or judges. Overall, in both parts of the country, the laws were hard to enforce over the entire territory as both governments never had full control.
After 1990, the laws that of the northern part of the country started to dominate and the age of marriage was set at 15. After the 1994 civil war, the Islah party gained many seats in the parliament and many of their members became influential in the government. In the following period, the constitution changed Shari’a from al-masdar al-ra’isi (the main source of legislation) to al-masdar al-waheed (the only source of legislation). Most importantly the marriage age limit was abolished on the basis that it was “un-Islamic” (other Islamic countries, like Kuwait and Bahrain set the marriage age to 16 while the UAE decided on 18).
In 2009, a movement against Child marriages gained influence and a bill was drafted to set the marriage age at 17-years-old. According to the Yemeni constitution, this process works as so; a draft has to be made then only the government must hand it to the Legal Committee of the House of Representatives. After consultation, the committee has two options, either to discuss the bill directly in the hall amongst all 301 members or to form a smaller committee from the parliament according to their blocs. In this case, the Legal Committee chose to do the latter; however, the smaller committee could not agree on a solution. Therefore, the bill was passed on to an additional committee that was to discuss the draft according to the Shari’a. If the bill was passed then the approval of the president would be necessary before the law is amended, but in this case, the Shari’a Committee shut it down in 2010 after handing in a 15-page report arguing against the creation of such law. Now in 2012, female activists are trying to change this law again.


The situation in Yemen remains highly unstable; political and economic problems take center stage. It is up to female activists and policy makers to push for changes. A new constitution will be drafted, and it is essential that this new constitution clearly sets a marriage age (recommended at 16) while outlining punishments for violators. Furthermore, the new government has to earn credibility otherwise the law will not be adhered to. These laws would be fruitless if women are not included in the process of lawmaking. As of now, only one women (and one political party), Awras Naji (GPC), is a member of the parliament. The process of changing the marriage age is a heavy burden on one women. The interim government is already on a promising path as it appointed three female ministers. Along with these positive moves, Yemeni women need to learn about their rights to vote and their capacity to change their own futures.
While we wait for these changes to take place, women can defend themselves within the Shari’a framework. In Islam, Nikkah (marriage contract) is an agreement between two parties with mutual rights and obligations. A wedding requires ijab (man asking for marriage), qubul (agreement from the female), two male witnesses and a ma’dun. The parents of a young bride are accountable for what happens to their daughter; however, some loose restrictions can be placed on who can be a witness. For example, a requirement would be that the two witnesses need to be ethical individuals who are not paid for their presence. Furthermore, it is the duty of the Mad’un to make sure that the girl is fully aware of her responsibility as a wife and how her life will change and must seek clear indication of her acceptance. The state can restrict the prevalence of child marriages of requiring a civil registration at least a month before a marriage - this can require the signature of both parties. Finally, within the female islamic prerogative, a girl can ask for the creation of a marriage contract which can protect their current and future interest. Both, the Shafi’i and Zaydi schools allow the creation of conditions within a marriage as long as they don’t alter its main purpose. This means a girl can require that she finishes her education, work, gain proper medical care and even discusses custody of children after a divorce.
The reality is that Yemen’s conservative traditions are not legislated, however, laws and cultural practices sanction sexual discrimination. Historically, Yemen is a tribal society where kinship is indispensible. If we are to follow Lévi-Strauss' theory on kinship, then marriage in tribal societies is an exchange of women between men to build societal ties. It is another way to extend our influence and show our association. The role of society in preventing child marriage is undervalued because collective pressure is vital in changing traditions. The lack of public acceptability can act as a deterrent. This can start with affluent and influential families and the rest may follow. Yemenis need to know that democracy or even stable peace is unattainable without ensuring the wellbeing of half of their population; women’s rights is a primary building block towards moving forward.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Youth Debate over Foreign Aid in Yemen

This is an interesting event that included many of the rising Yemeni activists debating whether humanitarian, development and military aid is beneficial to the country. On the pro-foreign aid side, there are three activists; Rafat Al-Akhali, Rana Jarhum, Ala'a Jarban. On the opposite side is Atiaf Al Wazir and Ibrahim Mothana. They both raise good points, while some foreign aid creates a dependency, other projects wouldn't see the light of day without support. Judge for yourself as you watch:

Rafat Al Akhali: (from NDI)
Mr. Al Akhali is a youth activist who returned to Yemen from Canada to participate in the revolution. He is a leader (Co-founder) in Resonate!Yemen, an organization that promotes youth engagement on policy initiatives. About Resonate! Yemen: To have sustainable policies in Yemen that take into consideration the input of Yemeni youth as major stakeholders in policy design and implementation. To bring the voices and ideas of young Yemenis (aged 18 to 35) to Yemen's public policy discourse and support youth action on issues of national and international significance.

Rana Jarhum: (From Linkedin)
Rana is the current Gender and Youth Officer at RTI international. She graduated from University of Science and Technology (Sana'a) with a BA in Management Information System and earned her MA from University of York in Comparative and International Social Policy. Furthermore, Jarhum has extensive work experience with NGOs like the Danish Refugee Council and UNDP. She has also worked with the Women National Committee.

Ala'a Jabran: (from Awesome Yemeni Blog)
Ala'a is a Sana'a University Graduate and is a Yemeni Activist who writes a blog.

Atiaf Al Wazir: (from Woman from Yemen)
An activist and researcher turned citizen journalist since the start of the Yemeni Revolution. This blog started in 2008 with random thoughts and expressions. Then at the end of January 2011, the blog's focus concentrated on the revolution in Yemen, with commentaries, short pieces, videos, and photos to document the revolution and raise awareness on current issues. Hope you enjoy the blog, and I welcome any comments and/or suggestions. Love, peace & solidarity, Atiaf

Ibrahim Mothana: (from waq-al-waq)23-year-old activist, writer and Yemen's 2011 Arab Thought Foundation Ambassador. Co-founder of Watan Party & Yemen Enlightenment Debate. You can also follow him on twitter @imothanaYemen

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Time to Focus

Today a local conference for women titled “The active participation of women in building a modern civil state” was held in Aden; however the only subject worthy of making headlines (at least according to almasdaronline) was that Salem Basindouah, the Prime Minister, encouraged southern immigrants to return to Yemen. Like every other “women” event, an official recognizes and praises Yemeni women’s efforts in society and a general encouragement about further participation in the public sector is championed. These events have been taking place in Yemen for years now; workshops where a handful of selected females are chosen to participate. Unfortunately, the results always leads to yet another event about “women” while nothing solid is established on ground. This is not to critique any efforts made by Yemeni women. Forthrightly, they are hard working, as Yemen has the only interim government in the Middle East after the Arab Uprisings that selected three women as ministers.

Usually women are less likely to receive aid and are far less educated than men, but during the Yemeni revolution, women displayed their inner strength by standing shoulder to shoulder with their male counterparts in order to support the future of their nation. Overall, Yemenis are fed up of the deteriorating conditions in the country. We didn’t have to be the next Somalia or Afghanistan. But now, the situation is unstable and while the entire nation will suffer, women will bear most of the burden. In the South, AQAP is forcing women to cover according to their terms and disturbing reports are making it out of the city about gang rapes. The increase of female harassment and society’s negligence is not only upsetting but is foreshadowing of harder times to come. While many events recognize and analyze the many challenges facing women, the Yemeni feminist political agenda needs a tailored approach and an innovation of strategy.

On Sunday, a group of female journalists and other activists raised a lawsuit against Al-Ahmar for libel and defamation which is punishable in Islam. During the uprisings, Hamid Al-Ahmar questioned the virtue of female demonstrators in an interview with The New York Times. In countries like Yemen, it is easy to use the female body against her and usually similar tactics are utilized by men to restrain female public participation. While these women put their trust in the Yemeni judicial system, it is more likely that this lawsuit will take a long time before their demands are realized as Al-Ahmar denies these charges. These women are attempting to defend their pride and their good names but in the bigger scheme of things, Yemeni women do not need a lawsuit against an individual man. Yemeni feminists need to work collectively against more pressing issues like famine, political participation, female education or amending rights within the constitution. Thankfully, Yemen always has a great woman (individual), but now more than ever we need great women working together (as a unit). For instance, Foreign Policy magazine announced that Yemen has been ranked eighth on the recent failed state Index, something that many experts have been predicting for years. According to FP, “The new edition of the index draws on some 130,000 publicly available sources to analyze 177 countries and rate them on 12 indicators of pressure on the state during the year 2011 -- from refugee flows to poverty, public services to security threats. Taken together, a country's performance on this battery of indicators tells us how stable -- or unstable -- it is”. Thus, Yemeni women will face harder challenges, but their focus needs to shift. While the majority of the nation remains divided over political ideology and tribal alliances, women can be the only social group that functions as the glue that is capable of creating a unified vision within the community.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Yemen’s Interim Government: Now What?

Yemen’s Interim Government: Now What?

Published on 10 May 2012 in Report: Yemen Times
Sama’a Al-Hamdani (author)

In February 2012, Yemen held presidential elections with Abdu Rabuh Mansour Hadi as the sole candidate. The aim of post-revolution Yemen is to be more democratic after being ruled by the same man for the past 33 years. Thus, the new system must be inclusive and engage seriously in negotiations with a broad set of stakeholders.

Furthermore, the new government must remain committed to the understanding that it is a government by the people, and for the people. Hadi’s elections have been followed by some gradual s reforms; the new cabinet, known as the unity government, includes members from various political parties and the former president’s allies in the military are slowly being replaced.

Unfortunately, every day brings news about how unstable the situation in Yemen is.  So far, the country has proved tenacious against all odds—but how long can it last if the situation persists as it is?

The current interim government is considered to be in the first phase of three phases of post conflict governance to be undertaken. In most transitional governments, this period is usually about three years long, however Hadi is slated to step down in February of 2014. Overall, the interim government will need about 10 years for full recovery.

This first phase is considered the most crucial because it is a period of stabilization where social inclusion and capacity development need to be established in order to avoid a relapse into instability or, worse, full-fledged war.

In Yemen’s case, the government will need to measure its needs carefully in order to determine how best to proceed. So far, many people are criticizing the new government as ineffective; however, Hadi and his government are contending with formidable challenges and have thus far held the country from falling into state failure.

The biggest political challenge of this interim government is gaining legitimacy, and the longer the country is at a standstill, the less trust there is. Politically, the country has its hands full with constitutional reforms, inter-party cooperation and anti-corruption efforts. The government must also face the reality of near-constant intrusions of spoilers in the South as well as loyalists of the former government found all over the country

No development without security  

First and foremost, security is paramount as it is the foundation of the other two facets mentioned earlier. A Yemeni government official once said, “You cannot provide development without security and you cannot provide security without development.” Without security, the nation will continue to be unstable and donors will be afraid to invest their wealth in the country.

From a positive perspective, enhanced security would not only help Yemen attract foreign capital, it would also bring about a reduction in the flight of Yemeni capital.

Yet, in order for change to be realized in the long run, the people of Yemen need to stop being “leader-centric,” with people supporting personalities rather than political programs, so the country can avoid repeating the dilemma of its recent decades.

Moreover, civil society can play a major role in overcoming dictatorship as it fills the gap left by the lack of a strong government. In Yemen, as in all other countries, civil society is heterogeneous, with any group that is not a state actor able to participate. While these groups can work on rule of law, justice, civic education and promotion of democratic values, they can also act as covers for politicians without a party, or can be hijacked by the elite in efforts to gain monetary support. Therefore, it is ideal for the populace of Yemen to rely on the current interim government.

Civil Society involvement

Having said that, the government must practice a good deal of self-reflection in this process because this interim period will function as Yemen’s new foundation. Also, the government must not amplify the pressure placed on the country by international actors who are impatient and do not fully trust the current process. Administratively, the country must seek sovereignty, and share power based on electoral results. Definitively, the country should never settle for “good-enough” governance where functionality is back to normal but not improved. The new government will continue to be limited by its tribal and traditional practices as well as economic conditions, but the trick lies in working inside the box in order to build outside of it.

The international community seems not completely convinced of the stability of the current government although they publicly support it. For example, during the revolution US foreign aid was decreased from $134 million to $64 million. Hadi’s policy must decide which is more important: gaining domestic or international legitimacy? If things go as planned, in the long run, both objectives will be realized, but for now there is a need for a strategic approach.

Economic revival

Economic reconstruction that is felt by Yemenis on the ground is the best immediate way forward. Yemen’s economy is no longer determined by the usual laws of supply and demand. It is rather determined by a monopoly of the revolution. The people of Yemen will not support the country knowing that the current policies are designed for the servitude of the people since 2 percent of Yemen’s population holds 80 percent of the wealth.

For starters, economic reconstruction can mean many different things to different people, but in Yemen’s case, it must not resemble a “face-lift” — it requires a complete overhaul. Rebuilding Yemen’s economy as it was before would be hazardous because the previous system was not stable. Reconstructing the economy in the 21st century and especially in 2012 is very different than doing it in 1998.

Just last January, the Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation declared that the country will need approximately $15 billion to stabilize.


Policies regarding the economy need to memorialize a compromise; meaning that they need to gain the acceptance of all parties involved. Furthermore, Yemen’s instability is at risk of intra-state conflict rather than interstate. Many of the previous economic reconstruction policies focus on the latter.

Furthermore, in today’s globalized world, non-state actors play a major role in development. Therefore, the country must map out an accurate and in-depth economic analysis of the conditions since the start of the revolution in order to determine the exact needs of the country. For example, only one in ten Yemenis describe local economic conditions as good, while 42 percent said that they experienced extreme difficulty buying food for their families.

The new government working together will determine Yemen’s future, and while this trust is placed on everyone, extra efforts will be placed on the shoulders of Murshed Al-’Arashani (Minister of Justice), Mohamed Al-Saadi (Minister of Planning and International Cooperation), Sakhr Al-Wajeeh (Minister of Finance), Amat Razaq Humad (Minister of Social Affairs and Labor), and Sa’ad Aldin Ben Talib (Minister of Trade and Industry) for immediate recovery.

These Ministers must take Yemen through the first steps of reform. As a matter of priority, these institutions must promote accountability and transferability. Without functioning courts, nothing else can function. The country must develop a strong and independent judiciary. The people and the government must know that there are consequences for not obeying the law.


While most economists emphasize the role of the private sector, efforts at present must focus on building public sector institutions, as they are considered investments in Yemen’s future rather than expenditures. Many villages in Yemen do not have access to clean water, hospitals or electricity. Improving these areas not only improves the lives of Yemenis but it helps decrease the high and rising unemployment rates.

If these plans are not in process within the next two years, then the people of Yemen have the right to believe that the government is useless.

At present the country’s economy is on life-support, which is not surprising given what the country has been through. For the first six months (through August 2012) the main needs of the government are to provide food, clothing, shelter, fuel and medical services to affected individuals.

By the end of Hadi’s rule (by February 2013) the country needs to rely less on humanitarian aid and transition towards sustainable development in domestic resources.

This vision needs to shift from the macro-level to the micro-level. With respect to the latter,   it is essential that the country does not privatize things too quickly after the revolution, as the people who have the most financial capability right now are the ones who benefited illegally from Yemen’s deteriorating conditions. Furthermore, the government must all agree on the needs of the country so that the objectives of international and national NGOs can be aligned with domestic goals.

Economic self-dependence

Ultimately, Yemen will only be able to take responsibility for it once the economy is empowered by the domestic sector. Additionally, the country cannot survive for long if its reliance on foreign aid for humanitarian needs lasts for more than the initial period. First, the money would not be in the hands of the government, making the government less accountable and legitimate, while also risking another collapse.

Yemen cannot control the timing at which these funds are released, the amount of aid, and the gap between pledge and delivery. Raymond Gilpin, Director of the Center for Sustainable Economies at the United States Institute for Peace explains that “the relationship between donor countries and conflict-affected countries is like a bad marriage, where both parties know that the other is cheating but no one wants a divorce.”  Also, at times when funds are released rapidly, the country’s institutions may not be able to absorb the funds or spend it prudently. It might be a better idea to use money to stabilize the currency rather than use it for expenditure.

On top of that, there needs to be a clear tax system. Of course, the people will object to this, but the people of Rwanda, to take one example, were convinced to pay taxes because they trusted the government and felt that it was their national duty to help rebuild their country.

Collecting taxes this year or the next is not an option, but a plan needs to be developed for the future. A tax administration must be carefully selected and all of the government’s institutions need to be 100 percent transparent in order for this process to be accurate.

More importantly, the tax base needs to be broad, and the tax burden needs to be shared if it is to be sustainable. For the meantime, Yemen can increase revenues through indirect taxation. Besides, the unity government should not be afraid of deficits because, at times, a deficit is a reflection of an investment in the future.

The new country should not be afraid to engage the youth. The government should be transparent about its plans and offer the youth a chance to participate in this process. This includes listening to their ideas about innovative ways of re-building society. After all, the torch will only be passed on to them. The efforts of the unity government need to focus on goals that can be achieved in 10 to 15 years so that Yemen does not have to go through this process again while expecting different results. It is all about practicality — if Yemen doesn’t invest correctly and generously in the short term, there may be no long term.

Without the right steps forward, these people do not stand a chance alone. All Yemenis should work together to make this a best case scenario where Business Monitor International explains it as a period with “some potential for a resumption of growth in 2012. Backed up by inflows of foreign aid from the Gulf Cooperation Council and elsewhere, a new government would likely have the resources to be able to increase spending and protect the economy’s export infrastructure.” 
من أجل ضمان التعافي والتحول في اليمن: أولويات ورؤى
سماء خالد الهمداني

أجرى اليمن انتخابات رئاسية في شهر فبراير من هذا العام 2012 بوجود مرشح واحد هو عبد ربه منصور هادي، حيث يهدف يمن ما بعد الثورة إلى ممارسة ديمقراطية أكبر بعد أن ظل تحت قيادة رجل واحد طوال الثلاثين عاماً الماضية. لذلك لابد أن يكون النظام الجديد منفتحاً ويرحب بالحوار، وأن تضع الحكومة نصب عينيها أنها صنيعة الشعب وعليها أن تبقى من أجله. وقد بدأت عملية من الإصلاحات التدريجية عقب الانتخابات، حيث شمل حكومة الوفاق الوطني، حيث ضمت أعضاء من مختلف الأحزاب السياسية، بينما بدء التخلص التدريجي من حلفاء الرئيس صالح في الجيش واستبدالهم بعناصر جديدة. ويتحتم على الحكومة ممارسة الحكم الراشد وتطبيق القانون إن أرادت اكتساب الشرعية والقدرة على حكم وإدارة البلاد.
تعتبر هذه الحكومة الانتقالية في أولى ثلاثة مراحل للحكم في فترة ما بعد النزاع. و بينما يمتد طول هذه الفترة إلى حوالى الثلاثة أعوام في معظم الحكومات الانتقالية، إلا أنه من المقرر أن يتنحى الرئيس هادي عن الحكم في شهر فبراير من العام 2014. وتحتاج الحكومة الانتقالية إلى عشرة أعوام حتى تحقق البلاد تعافياً تاماً. تعتبر هذه المرحلة الأكثر حرجاً بالنسبة للحكومة الانتقالية إذ يقع على عاتقها مهمة إعادة الاستقرار، وضرورة تحقيق الإدماج الاجتماعي وتعزيز القدرات في المجالات المختلفة لتجنيب البلاد خطر العودة إلى ما كانت عليه أخيراً أو، أسوأ من ذلك، حرباً أهلية واسعة. لا بد للحكومة الانتقالية من تقدير احتياجاتها بتبصر وحكمة حتى تتمكن من تحديد وجهتها التي تريد. ويوجه العديد من الناس النقد للحكومة الانتقالية واصفين إياها بالعجز وعدم الجدوى، ومهما يكن من أمر فإن الرئيس هادي وحكومته يقفون موقف التحدي أمام إرث ثقيل، ليس أقله النجاح في إيقاف البلاد من السقوط في هوة الدول الفاشلة. إن أكبر تحدي سياسي يواجه الحكومة الانتقالية الآن هو اكتساب الشرعية، وكلما طالت فترة الركود التي تمر بها البلاد الآن كلما قلت ثقة الشعب بها. هنالك العديد من الأمور التي تشغل البلاد اليوم بما فيها الإصلاحات الدستورية والتعاون بين الأحزاب وداخلها والجهود الرامية إلى القضاء على الفساد. كما تواجه الحكومة الانتقالية ايضاً المعارضين في الجنوب وأعوان النظام السابق الذين ينتشرون في كل بقاع البلاد.
ومما لا شك فيه أن الأمن تفوق أهميته ما عداه إذ يقوم مقام الأساس لما سبق ذكره آنفاً. وفي هذا المقام نسترجع ما ذهب إليه مسؤول حكومي قائلاً: " لا تستطيع توفير تنمية بدون أمن، ولا أمن بدون تنمية". ففي غياب الأمن ستستمر حالة عدم الاستقرار وهذا ما يجعل المستثمرين الأجانب يحجمون عن وضع أموالهم في البلاد. ومن وجهة نظر إيجابية، فإن تحسن الوضع الأمني لن يساعد اليمن في جذب الاستثمارات الأجنبية فقط، بل سيؤدي أيضاً إلى بقاء رأس المال الوطني داخل البلاد. أن نفترض أن مسار اليمن نحو تحقيق الحكم الراشد سيكون سهلاً ليس إلا توهما، فالظروف الراهنة تشير إلى أن الطريق قد لا يخلو من عوائق وعثرات. وعلى اليمنيين والمراقبين الدوليين التخلي عن الاهتمام بدقائق الأمور في تناولهم لمسارات العمل التي تتبناها الحكومة الانتقالية حالياً، وتشجيع الجهود التي يقوم بها الرئيس هادي بدلاً عن ذلك. تقع المسؤولية تجاه الحكم الراشد على المجتمع بأكمله، وفي الواقع فإن الفرصة مواتية الآن تحت ظل حكومة الوفاق لتأسيس نظم حزبية في وضع ما بعد الصراعات. وتستطيع الجهات الأخرى الإفادة من فترة العامين لتركيز برامجها واكتساب مزيداً من الشرعية وتوثيق روابطها مع المجتمع، إضافة إلى تطوير أيدولوجيات واضحة وتعبئة مواردها المالية. ويجب على الشعب اليمني ترك سياسة التركيز على الزعامة ودعم شخصيات بعينها بدلاً من برامج سياسية، لئلا تعود البلاد إلى تكرار معضلة العقود القليلة الماضية.
فوق ذلك، فإن المجتمع المدني يمكنه لعب دور كبير في التغلب على الحكم المطلق وتسلط الدولة اللذان عادة ما يملآن الفراغ في غياب حكومة قوية. وفي اليمن، كما هو الحال في جميع البلدان، تستطيع أي مجموعة لا تنتمي إلى حزب سياسي ان تصبح جزءً من المجتمع المدني. وبينما تستطيع هذه المجموعات العمل في مجالات حكم القانون وتطبيق العدالة والتعليم المدني والدفاع عن القيم الديمقراطية، تستطيع أيضاً أن تؤدى دور الستار الذي يعمل من ورائه أولئك الذين لا ينتمون إلى أحزاب بعينها. وقد تتعرض هذه المجموعات للاحتواء من قبل الصفوة في محاولة للحصول على قدر من الدعم النقدي. ولذلك، فلا بد للسواد الأعظم الاعتماد الكامل على الحكومة المؤقتة الحالية.
ينبغي على الحكومة التفكير بترو في هذه العملية حيث أن الفترة الحالية تشكل منطلقاً لليمن نحو مقبل الأيام. كما يجب عليها أيضاً أن لا تضخم الضغوطات التي يفرضها عليها المجتمع الدولي الذي لا يتذرع بالصبر ولا يضع كامل ثقته في العملية الراهنة. ومن وجهة إدارية يجب على الدولة العمل على تأكيد سيادتها وتقاسم السلطة وفقاً للنتائج الانتخابية. وبشكل بات فعلى البلاد أن لا تقنع بمستوى وشكل من الحكم يعيد الأمور إلى ما كانت عليه في السابق بدون تحقيق التحسن والتقدم المرجوين. ستواصل الاعتبارات القبلية والتقليدية تأثيرها على الحكومة وتحد من قدرتها على الأداء بالفاعلية المطلوبة، ولكن يجب على الحكومة توخي الحيطة والحذر والعمل وفق استراتيجيات استباقية وليس بردود الأفعال.
إن تحقيق الحكم الراشد يتطلب العمل عن قرب مع العديد من الشركاء الدوليين والمنظمات العالمية وغير الحكومية. ويشمل هذا التعاون التزام كل من مجلس التعاون الخليجي ومنظمات عالمية بتقديم المساعدات التي لم يتم وصولها بعد. وعلى الرغم من تصريحات المجتمع الدولي بدعمه للحكومة المؤقتة، فإن الواقع يشير بعدم قناعته التامة باستقرار الوضع في ظلها. فعلى سبيل المثال، انخفضت المساعدات الحكومية الأمريكية لليمن أثناء الثورة من 134 مليون دولاراً إلى 64 مليون دولاراً. يبقى على سياسات الرئيس هادي تحديد الأهم: اكتساب الشرعية الوطنية أم الدولية؟
ولو سارت الأمور على ما هو مخطط لها، فسوف يتحقق كلا الهدفين في الأمد البعيد – بيد أنه في هذه اللحظة تبدو ضرورة إتباع نهج استراتيجي.
إن إعادة تشكيل الهياكل الاقتصادية ذات الأثر المباشر على أفراد الشعب اليمني هي مستهل الطريق إلى التنمية الشاملة. ولم يعد الاقتصاد اليمني يُحدد وفقاً للقوانين التي تحكم العرض والطلب، بل تحدده بالأحرى القوى التي تتمكن من احتكار الثورة. وسوف لن يدعم الشعب اليمني دولة تقوم على استعباده، إذ أن ثمانين بالمائة من ثروة البلاد تتركز في يد أثنين بالمائة فقط من أفراد الشعب. قد يعني التأهيل الاقتصادي أشياء مختلفة لأناس مختلفين، أما في الحالة اليمنية فيجب أن لا يمثل "عملية تجميل"، بل إصلاحاً شاملا ومتكاملاً. إن إعادة بناء الاقتصاد اليمني كما كان عليه سابقاً سيكون محفوفاً بالمخاطر؛ فذلك بناء تم في ظل نظام غير مستقر. وإعادة بناء اقتصاد اليمن في القرن الحادي والعشرين سيكون حتماً مختلفاً، ويزداد ذلك تعقيداً أمام التحديات الجسام التي تواجهها البلاد اليوم. ففي شهر يناير/كانون الثاني الماضي فقط قدرت وزارة التخطيط والتعاون الدولي احتياجات اليمن لتحقيق الاستقرار بحوالي 15 بليون دولاراً أمريكياً.
تستطيع الحكومة الجديدة تحديد مستقبل البلاد إذا عملت بكل أجهزتها بتوافق وتفاهم. وبينما تقع المسؤولية على جميع أجهزتها، فإن العبء الأكبر منها في تحقيق التعافي العاجل يقع على السيد العرشاني (وزير العدل)، والسيد السعدي (وزير التخطيط والتعاون الدولي)، والسيد الوجيه (وزير المالية)، والسيدة أمة الرزاق علي حُمد (وزيرة الشؤون الاجتماعية والتعاون) والسيد بن طالب (وزير الصناعة والتجارة). إن قضايا الاقتصاد اليمني متداخلة ومتشابكة بحيث تصبح معالجة أي منها على حدة أمراً شاقا إن لم يكن مستحيلاً. ويتطلب بناء اقتصاد معافى حوالى سبعة عشر عاماً ونصف العام في المتوسط، يجب خلالها تقليص الاعتماد على المساعدات والعون الخارجي. كمي يجب على الوزراء المذكورين آنفاً الأخذ بيد البلاد لعبور أولى مراحل الإصلاح، والعمل على تعزيز المساءلة والانتقالية. وفوق ذلك تأتي أهمية المحاكم الفاعلة التي لن يتم إنجاز أي عمل آخر في غيابها. ولن يتأتى ذلك إلا إذا عملت الدولة على إقامة سلطة قضائية قوية ومستقلة ونزيهة تحظى بتقدير الدولة واحترام الشعب ورضائه.
على الحكومة أن تواصل السير بتريث في نهج معتدل حيث أن لا أحد في اليمن حقاً يعرف ما هي الخطوة التالية. وليس هنالك فائزون أو خاسرون في الثورة اليمنية – ولذلك فلا بد لعملية السلام أن تبتكر آليات أكثر ذكاء. ولابد أن تكون السياسات الاقتصادية أكثر واقعية بحيث تأخذ في الاعتبار التجارب السابقة بما فيها من نجاحات وإخفاقات، إضافة إلى توازن يجعلها تجد القبول لدى كافة الأحزاب. يُضاف إلى ذلك، أن الاستقرار في اليمن يتعرض اليوم للخطر الداخلي أكثر من الخطر الخارجي. وقد ركزت معظم سياسات إعادة بناء الاقتصاد في السابق على مواجهة المخاطر الخارجية. وفي عالم اليوم الذي تحكمه العولمة، فإن العديد من الجهات الفاعلة غير الرسمية تلعب دوراً مؤثراً في التنمية. ويستوجب على الحكومة إجراء مسح اقتصادي شامل ودقيق لتحديد الاحتياجات المختلفة للبلاد منذ بدء الثورة. ففي استطلاع للرأي تم حديثاً، أجاب واحد من بين كل عشرة يمنيين أن الوضع الاقتصادي جيد؛ بينما ذكر أثنين وأربعين بالمائة أنهم يعانون بشدة في توفير لقمة العيش لأسرهم.
ومن واجب الحكومة أن تحدد أهدافها التنموية بوضوح، إضافة إلى احتياجاتها وأولوياتها حتى يكون الشعب والمجتمع الدولي على دراية بذلك. وبينما يؤكد معظم الاقتصاديين ما للقطاع الخاص من أهمية في التنمية والنمو الاقتصادي، فمن الأفضل حالياً أن تُركَز الجهود على إعادة بناء مؤسسات القطاع العام، حيث يمثل ذلك استثماراً بعيد المدى أكثر منه مصدراً للنفقات فقط. تفتقر العديد من القرى والمناطق الريفية في اليمن إلى الخدمات الأساسية مثل مياه الشرب والمراكز الصحية والكهرباء. إن تنمية هذه المناطق لا يُحِّسن من مستوى معيشة اليمنيين فقط، بل يعمل على خفض معدلات البطالة المرتفعة والآخذة في الازدياد. وإذا لم تشهد البلاد تقدماً في تحسين هذه المجالات خلال العامين المقبلين ستفقد الحكومة مصداقيتها أمام الشعب.
إن اقتصاد اليمن في الوقت الراهن يعتمد على التغذية الوريدية وهذا ليس بمستغرب إذا وضعنا في الاعتبار ما مرت به البلاد في الشهور القليلة الماضية. وستظل مسؤولية الحكومة في الشهور القادمة توفير المأكل والمشرب والملبس والمسكن والعلاج للمتأثرين جراء الأحداث الأخيرة. وبنهاية ولاية الرئيس هادي يستوجب على البلاد أن لا تعتمد بشكل كبير على المساعدات الإنسانية، وأن تبدأ في التحول نحو التنمية المستدامة في الموارد المتاحة لديها. ويجب أن تتحول هذه الرؤية من الاقتصاد الكلي إلى الاقتصاد الجزئي. وبما يتعلق بالأخير، فمن الأساسي أن لا تتسرع الحكومة في تطبيق سياسات الخصخصة بعد الثورة حيث أن هذه الخطوة ستعود بالنفع على الذين تتركز الثروات بأيدهم خاصة، وهم ذات الذين أَثْروا بطرق غير مشروعة في ظل الأوضاع المتدهورة للبلاد. وسيساعد تحديد الحكومة لأولويات البلاد واحتياجاتها الملحة والمتوسطة الأمد، المنظمات الدولية وغير الحكومية على توجيه مواردها ومساعداتها الفنية بثقة لرفد جهود التنمية في البلاد.
وفي نهاية الأمر فإن اليمن سيكون قادراً على تحمل مسؤولياته فقط عندما يتم تمكين الاقتصاد الوطني ويشتد عوده بقطاعيه العام والخاص. يضاف إلى ذلك أن اليمن لن يستطيع الاعتماد على المساعدات الإنسانية الخارجية إلى أبعد من الفترة الانتقالية الراهنة. كما أن هذه الموارد غالباً لا تكون تحت تصرف الحكومة المباشر، وبالتالي صعوبة تحديد المسؤولية وعلى من تقع المحاسبة. وهذه من شأنه إضعاف شرعية الدولة وسيادتها والمراهنة بانهيارها. ولا يخفى تلك الصعوبات التي تواجه البلاد في إدارة هذه الموارد، مثل تحديد مقاديرها ومواعيد الإفراج عنها، والتأخير المترتب على الفترة التي تفصل بين تاريخي الالتزام والإفراج من جانب الجهة المانحة. ويلخص ريموند جيلبين، مدير مركز الاقتصادات المستدامة بمعهد الولايات المتحدة للسلام ذلك في قوله: "إن العلاقة بين الدول المانحة والدول المتأثرة بالصراعات كالزواج الفاسد، فبينما يعلم كلا الطرفين بعدم إخلاص الطرف الآخر، لا يريد أي منهما الطلاق". وقد تفرج الجهات المانحة عن مساعداتها في وقت لا تكون فيه مؤسسات البلاد في وضع يمكنها من امتصاص تلك الأموال وتوظيفها على النحو المرجو. وقد يكون من الأفضل للبلاد حالياً توظيف ما لديها من موارد مالية لثبيت العملة بدلاً من تكريسها في أوجه الإنفاق العام.
ومما يُوْسف له أن اليمن قد دخل في التزامات مسبقة وأبرم عقوداً مع عدد من الشركاء في قطاع النفط والغاز الطبيعي، ولولا ذلك لأمكن تأميم هذا القطاع وغيره من الموارد والثروات حتى يفيد الشعب من عائداتها. يفتقر اليمن حالياً للتقنيات والأيدِ العاملة المؤهلة في مجال تكرير النفط. وهناك خطط لتوسيع مشروعات الغاز الطبيعي المُسال في بلحاف ومعبر والحديدة، ولعلها تكون فرصة مواتية لتأميم بعضاً، مع قلته، من الثروات الوطنية. وفوق ذلك هنالك الحاجة الملحة لإعادة النظر في ووضع نظام ضرائبي واضح. وسيواجه هذا النظام حتماً بالنقد والمعارضة الشعبية. ولكن يجب أن لا يثنى هذا الدولة عن إدخاله وتطبيقه بالتوعية والحجة. فقد أقتنع شعب رواندا بدفع الضرائب عندما وضع ثقته في حكومته وشعر أن ما يقوم به واجب وطني عليه أداءه من أجل بناء وإعمار بلاده.
إن البدء في عملية جمع الضرائب لا يعد خياراً في هذا العام أو العام المقبل، ولكن يجب وضع خطة عملية لما بعد ذلك واختيار إدارة لهذه المهمة بكل عناية. وعلى جميع المؤسسات المعنية ممارسة أقصى درجات الشفافية إذا أريد لهذه العملية النجاح. ومن الضروري بناء قاعدة ضريبية عريضة، بحيث يقتسم العبء الضريبي على شرائح المجتمع المنتجة بشكل عادل وواقعي، يضمن استدامه العائد. وحتى ذلك الحين، فبإمكان الحكومة زيادة دخلها عن طريق الضرائب المباشرة. إن حدوث عجز في الموازنة العامة للدولة يجب أن لا يكون مدعاة للقلق إذ أنه، في بعض الأحيان، قد يكون مؤشراً لاستثمار لاحق.
إن برنامج المساعدة الخاص بالحكم الراشد والإدارة الاقتصادية في جمهورية ليبريا يستحق كل اهتمام. فعند بدء هذا البرنامج كانت الأوضاع هناك لا تختلف عن مثيلاتها في دول الصومال المفككة. أما اليوم فتشهد الأوضاع في ليبريا تحسناً كبيراً يعزى إلى الحكومة الانتقالية هناك. عانت ليبريا، مثل اليمن، من الفساد. ولكن في اجتماع عقد في بدايات الألفية، ضم الدول المجاورة والمانحين بالإضافة للجهات المعنية في ليبريا، تم الاتفاق على تشكيل أدارة مشتركة للعون الخارجي من قبل الوزارات المعنية الرئيسة وممثل للمجتمع الدولي. وأوجب هذا الترتيب توقيع الوزير المعني وممثل المجتمع الدولي معاً على كل اتفاقية يتم إبرامها، إضافة إلى عقد خاص يوقعه الوزير المعني يُلزِمه بشروط الاتفاقية وأهدافها. كما أتاح إشراك المنظمات غير الحكومية والمجتمع الدولي رقابة وشفافية أكبر، وليس أقل من ذلك تعرض بعض الوزراء الغير ملتزمين بهذه الترتيبات إلى تجميد الممتلكات والسجن.
ومن حسن الحظ فليس هناك ما يستلزم ذهاب اليمن إلى أبعد من ذلك المدى، ولكن على حكومة الوحدة تركيز جل اهتمامها على الشعب اليمني وتمكينه من تحقيق أولوياته، مع إقرارها بقدرته على الرقابة الذاتية. وعليها أيضاً أن لا تنسى أنها مسؤولة عن قوة عاملة تبلغ 8.6 مليوناً من الأنفس، وأن 52 بالمائة من الشعب لا يجدون العمل، والتذكر بأنها تقف على رأس بلد يعيش 50 بالمائة من شعبه تحت خط الفقر، إضافة إلى أن الأميات يمثلن 60 بالمائة من تعداد النساء والفتيات.
وصفت صحيفة بيزنيس مونتر انترناشيونال هذه اللحظات التي يمر بها اليمن بأنها " تحمل بعض الإمكانات التي تتيح له معاودة النمو في عام 2012. ومع تدفقات المساعدات الخارجية من دول مجلس التعاون الخليجي وغيرها، فإنه من المرجح أن تتوافر الموارد المالية لدى أي حكومة جديدة لزيادة الإنفاق وحماية البنية الأساسية للصادرات". فالفرصة متاحة الآن أمام اليمن شعباً وحكومة لرسم أهداف واضحة وواقعية واتخاذ خطوات جادة وعملية حتى يتحقق لليمن الحبيب وشعبه الكريم ما يبتغيه ويستحقه حاضراً ومستقبلاً.

To the Wehda Generation

Friday, May 22, 2009 at 3:03am

It seems like yesterday when I stood in the morning as the school gathered while I screamed the top of my lungs on a microphone saying; “Allah (God), Al-Watan (Motherland), Al-Thawra (The revolution), Tahya al Jumhoria alYemenia (long live the Yemeni Republic)”. In front of me stood long lines of middle school students, each line representing a grade, echoing at the top of their lungs the same words I said. There was a moment of power held by a promising youth who believed in the future of their country. This ritual was usually held in almost every school after the students sang along to the national anthem. Together we were strong and the fact that a girl was leading the ceremony didn’t matter then…. But, it matters now!

What happened to my motherland? Most importantly what happened to my nationalist spirit? How can faith so strong fade away?

Ironically, we are celebrating Yemen’s Unity on the 22 of May (1990, not even 20 years old yet) while the country is struggling to hold this unity together. I browse the net for news about Yemen only to see that my beautiful country, my motherland, is not only confronting separatists, but is struggling with Al-Houthi group, Al-Qaeda members, Somali piracy, and corruption (to name a few). The critiquing analysts are mostly non-Yemenis and the Yemeni sources also assure the public that everything is “under control”. Exactly like the Yemeni proverb, “Amya Tekhatheb Majnoona wal Sanja Tesma’a” (The blind titivates the crazy while the deaf listens). We are celebrating this fragile unity and to my heart, it is as if we are celebrating the birthday of a leukemia child.

Am I crazy to panic now?
I think not. Many of you – especially those who went to school to private schools in Sana’a – studied in schools where the students were from Aden, Ibb, Taiz, Al-Hudaydah, Hathramout, Thamar and Yafe’a. You were classmates and friends and, most of all, YEMENI. We are authoritatively the Generation of Unity “Al Wehda”. We might have come from different parts of Yemen and our parents’ history may have been different but they vowed to be one.

Why is it that our generation of “Al Wehda” is so mute even though we have been one for as long as we remember? Do we have a responsibility to ourselves before everyone else to protect our future? We all had beautiful dreams and some feel that they are only nightmares as time progresses, but are we putting the minimum effort to reach those dreams? Unfortunately, many of us are just watching those dreams and innocent hopes shatter, as we stand helpless to the possibility of having a new generation that is dream-less.

People always come with a story; the first begins with Al-Houthi.

As most of you know, it all really started about 6 years ago (2003). Al-Houthi is a family in the Sa’dah governorate (they are a Zaydi/Shiite family that is rumored to be rich). When we talk about “The Houthis” we are not talking about a family, but a guerrilla. The Houthis name took after the founder who has been killed. After his death, his sibling took over. They are officially known as Tantheem Al-Shabab Al-Mo’men (Organization Of the Faithful Youth). The Houthis believe they are nationalists. Their process began by recruiting youths in mosques to follow an ideology of rejecting American/Israeli polices in the Middle East. It was simple; they began by marching in protests and holding banners saying “Death to America/ Death to Israel”.

Then it got thorny; the group expanded in numbers and proliferated in strength. They began protesting the Yemeni government while asking for Al-7okm Al-Adel (Justice Ruling) according to Shiism. FYI: In Yemen, there are many Zaydi families where the sect and practices are very close and similar to those of Sunnis. The Yemeni government does not believe that Al-Houthi sect to be similar to the Shiite sects in Yemen, but akin to Iranian Shiism. In the region, it is believed that Iran is supporting Al-Houthis logistically; financially and militarily. In turn, Al-Houthis denied receiving support from Hezbollah (in Lebanon) or the Iranian Government.

Al-Houthis are attacking from one side, and then we have Al-Qaeda members and even our own Yemeni born terrorist groups, all of which are offensive from different angels. To top it off, we are failing our economy and letting everything else go down with it. We are allowing the world to watch as if we are an entertainment and, of course, Al fathi ye’mal Qadi (those who have nothing to do pretend to be much more). If we do not gain control of the situation soon, then we are asking for foreign and global involvement, which will not achieve optimum results (as we have observed previously in history). Lets not forget that Yemen is our mother and Al Oum Oum hata walou kanat Sum (A mother is a mother even if she was poisoning)

Each problem is so complex and needs exceptional attention. For example, since 2003, there have been sporadic battles between the government and Al-Houthi supporters. A simple question comes to mind, how can such a group fight the government for six years?

The answer is somewhat clear-cut. Sa’dah is a large governorate and unlike popular belief, it is not mainly desert. It is large and consists of valleys, mountains and plateaus. During the fights with Al-Houthi, the rebels have managed to escape to the mountains and hide (sounds like Afghanistan much?). Also, in Yemen, we are bound to Tribal Law. While the government was fighting Al-Houthis, the government involved other tribes in fighting Al-Houthis, which resulted in an ongoing vendetta.

The real tragedy is the unknown number of deaths (but definitely in the thousands). A large number of people are internally displaced people due to this long war. The Yemeni government states that they are taking the necessary steps to help those people and an NGO assessment of the situation is still unavailable.

Currently, Al-Houthis are supporting secession of the South because they are trying to politically antagonize everybody against the government. As a radical group, they have no interest in the future potential of the country but merely in shaking the government in order to win. Al-Houthis aren’t the only people supporting a split, but other political parties and groups are promoting such madness, only to advance their own agendas. It became a game of politics while the real people become imperceptible.

Many of us remember the Civil War of 1994. Personally, I wasn’t quite sure what was happening but it was obvious that there was war between the North and South of Yemen. I would hide in my house before sunset because most of the firing began after dark. We had to tape the house windows in a particular way to guarantee (or hope) that if an explosion were close then the glass would not fly around and hurt us. My whole family would gather in one room as we watched rockets fly around. It was definitely a family bonding experience but at the expense of happiness and safety because all the adults were scared as we sat clueless. My family, school, and every other important institution in my life taught me that this war was juvenile because we were all Yemenis and we could push past those small differences.

The second story (example) is that of the Somali refugees and piracy.

The problem began in the early nineties, when the Somali state collapsed. Refugees flooded the cities and villages of Yemen, mainly those that are closer to the Arabian Sea but as time passed, they became dispersed everywhere. Refugee camps were mainly in Kharaz (South of Yemen), Mayfa’ah (in Shabwah), and other similar locations.

Another question comes to mind, if the refugee problem has been an issue for such a long time, why should we be in trepidation now?

The Somalis have merged and integrated very well with the Yemeni culture that it is so hard to simply pull them out. The numbers have been recently increasing, where the current estimate of Somali refugees is 650,000 (not including immigrants). UNHCR was helpful, but the aid is very limited especially since the incident of September 11th. Western countries are austerely shutting down their doors in front of the refugees.

Lets not forget that Yemen is also the home for a large number of Ethiopian, Eritrean and Sudani Refugees. Yemen has become also a home for tens of thousands of Iraqi refugees after the American Invasion of Iraq. There are also a smaller number of Palestinian refugees who have resided in Yemen since 1948. Why cant we listen to our own proverbs: “Ya 6abeeb 6eb nafsak wa khali 6eb lal Nas” (If you are good doctor, then you should begin by curing yourself)?

It’s a combination of all three; the convention of Geneva of Refugees in 1951 obliges Yemen to receive the refugees and treat them in a humanitarian matter, we can not control the situation and in the community we have welcomed them as an integral part of us. Sadly, those Somali refugees face hunger, poverty and mal treatment (xenophobia). As we say, jaza’a al ma’rouf saba’a kefouf (the return of a favor is multiple slaps). Who can we blame for this? The international community for not being so firm on finding a solution? The Somali people for not being able to reconcile and build their own country? Or we should we stop blaming and start learning??

When the British first colonized the South of Yemen, their pretext was to overcome piracy in the region. It is as if history is repeating itself and we all know that Al Muslim La Yolda3’ Maratayen (The Muslim doesn’t get fooled twice). If we break, then we are risking a new foreign involvement in the area to “prevent piracy” or to “fight extremists”.

After all of this, could we become the new Somalia? What country will be generous enough to take us all in? What will happen to our homes and lands? How about distant family and friends (you know, the ones in different governorates)? What happens to all the families with children? What are the hopes of them actually receiving any education? What are the hopes of them not witnessing war or not loosing a family member due to political involvement? Where does the pain and hate go? There are already no opportunities for people to have a good life, why should they suffer even more? Why make things worse instead of try to make them better?

It is truly a very difficult time and my heart cannot help but shrug in fear due to opaque path. Today we face not one issue or two. We are facing multiple fierce obstacles in the face of our Arabia Felix such as Al-Houthi in the North, Southern Separatists, Al-Qaeda presence, Refugee overload, Security Threats, Economic deprivation, unemployment, the return of Yemeni immigrants (due to the current world economy), and a sharp population growth. Desolately, women barely contribute as a solution to any of these factors and represent a large number of the victims in each of the mentioned categories. With a 65% illiteracy rate amongst women, they will continue to suffer, especially if the situation becomes worse where they are not equipped to face any challenges without the presence of “men”.

This is a time to remember that before Islamic rule, a woman, the Queen of Sheba ruler of the Sabayan kingdom, ruled all of Yemen. She was strong, beautiful and a democrat who controlled and successfully lead fierce tribes. After Islam (around the 11th century), Queen Arwa bint Ahmed ruled after her husband Al-Mukaram Ahmed Bin Ali died. She united most of Yemen and ruled for 35 years. I am not suggesting that the next leader be a female, but I am proposing for women to be more active and to understand their own given rights even if it means looking back at history.

It is time for our generation...Men and Women… the “Wehda Generation” to stop sitting hopelessly waiting for the older generations to do the fight for us. It is time for us to be the active masters of our own future. Even Tony Blair admits that in the Middle East, peace is “defended by them [citizens] and not by us [Foreign involvement or politics]”. We need to address the problems and slowly move towards solving them. If we stay united, I cannot predict or guarantee a satisfactory outcome, but it is a compensation to put our own lives into action where we are the initiators of our destiny rather than being front seat audience (or in some cases – back seat audience).

Child Marriages 2

Posted in: Reports : Yemen Observer
Written By: Sama'a Al-Hamdani
Article Date: Aug 13, 2005

This column is dedicated to early marriages in Yemen and its significance to both individuals and society as a whole. 

Many people believe that early marriages are strongly related to Islamic beliefs. It is only natural that religion plays a major role in every culture, but it is necessary, however, to understand that Islam, the predominant religion in Yemen, does not mandate early marriage, nor does it prohibit it. Islamic legislation does not set a definite age for marriage, and so it is left to the individual and families to decide the right age based on interests, circumstances, and location. 

Before deciding whether Islam promotes child marriages, it is essential to understand the religion's values and beliefs. The Holy Koran and the Hadiths are the Muslim's reference on how to conduct one's life according to the rules of Allah. In the Koran, marriage is considered something very special.  Islam specifies that if marriage is beneficial to the individual and society, then it is permitted by Allah. If it is detrimental, then it is forbidden.  The Koran states:
He created for you mates from among yourselves, that ye may dwell in tranquility with them, and he has put love and mercy between your (hearts). 

In the Holy Koran, the importance of partners finding comfort in each other and living in harmony is given due emphasis, but this serenity may not be achieved if one of the partners is not content in the union.  Even though the Shari' a, Islamic religious law, does not specify a suitable age for marriage, it does say that a married woman should have already reached puberty so that she can bear children.

Marriage is Sunnah, which means it is recommended, but it may become an obligation to protect oneself from disgrace or from engaging in illegitimate sexual relations before contracting marriage. In another sense, marriage should be mandatory if a person is afraid of committing Zina, or fornication. Extramarital fornication is forbidden in Yemeni culture and in Islam, where marriage is viewed as a means of protection from unwanted attentions and taboo relations.  Many people believe that Islam encourages early marriage because of the interpretations of scholars and the Hadiths, or sayings and quotes, of the Prophet.  Many men and women marry early because of hadiths that encourage marriage.
 O, you, young men! Whoever is able should marry because it will help you to lower your gaze and preserve your modesty, and those who cannot should fast because it preserves [narrated by Al- Bukhari, Moslem, Ahmed and others].

This Hadith encourages early marriage because it preserves and protects Muslims from premarital relations and prevents them from sin. Here follows another Hadith which relates marriage to fulfilling a religious duty towards Allah:
 When a man marries, he has fulfilled half of his religion, so let him fear Allah in the remaining half [narrated by Anas about the Prophet].
Many people cite the example of the Prophet Mohammed (MPBH) when he married Aisha at the age of 9. However, they seem to forget that he was a Prophet and married more women to help spread the religion through several tribes.  Also, little responsibility was placed on Aisha. While many people mention that the Prophet married Aisha at such a young age, no one mentions that Fatima Al-Zahra, daughter of the Prophet, was married at 18 years of age and was the only wife of her husband.  When Fatima married, the Prophet gave her the choice of whether she wanted to go through with the union or not.  
When a young girl is married off, she should be given the choice to agree or disagree with the marriage. There are Hadiths by the Prophet that state that a girl's consent to marriage is of great importance.  If a girl rejects a marriage, then it is forbidden for her to be married off.  When a girl is silent, it is taken as a sign of consent. After understanding the rules for marriage in Islam, it is plain to see that the decision to marry early remains with the partners and their families.

Many westerners believe that early marriage is obligatory in Islam because in their cultures premarital relations are generally accepted. In other words, early marriages are common in Middle Eastern societies to satisfy natural sexual needs. Child marriages represent more of a cultural belief than an Islamic belief. In Egypt, we find that both young Christian and Muslim girls are married before the age of eighteen. The same is true for Iraq and Jordan.
Child marriages are a common feature of Yemen society and needs to be addressed to prevent their sometimes nefarious consequences for Yemen's society.

The Health of a Young Family

Child Marriages III: The Health of a Young Family

By Sama’a Al-Hamdani
Aug 20, 2005 - Vol. VIII Issue 33
This article is one in a series of investigations into the problems of early marriages in Yemen.

Early marriage has affects on the general health of society. According to Islam and Yemeni culture, marriage is the only thing that legitimizes sexual intercourse. That being said, the marriage of a child has a dramatic effect on the health of the pregnant teenager and the new-born child, in turn, poses a threat to society in various ways.

Many people believe that a girl who has reached menstruation is a woman, regardless of her age, mental maturity, or level of education. The Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) says that a woman should have reached the age of 18 in order to be ready for marriage. It is stated that childhood is a process and time of growth that doesn’t end with any obvious sign of physical maturity. Many people do not consider that girls may be affected physically and emotionally due to their early marriage.

Tradition has it that a girl must engage in sexual intercourse with her husband and prove her virginity on the wedding night. The girl is to do that either voluntarily or by force. Forced marital relations usually result in side effects in which the girl ends up with broken bones, bruises, cuts, broken vaginal tissues and other injuries from violent acts. A young girl may bleed uncontrollably because her body was not fit enough to be with a man. Many girls give birth without receiving medical care and suffer from medical complications such as malnutrition, risk of abortion, premature delivery, risk of injury to the womb because of an immature pelvis and genital channels. 47% of all births in Yemen witness unwanted accompanying side effects. The country suffers from high anemia rates due to malnutrition, with 57.1% of pregnant women in Al-Hodeidah and Ibb, for example, suffering from it. Another reason for anemia is repeated unhealthy pregnancies(Oxfam Research, 2003).

When a girl marries at an early age, she generally produces a higher rate of child bearing and more total births, where the average family has 7.2 members. Yemen’s fertility rates, or average number of live births per woman during her reproductive years, are the third highest in the world. Around a half of Yemen’s population consists of children between the ages of 1 month to 14 years of age. Yemen suffers from high maternal mortality rates due to early marriage, and has 351 maternal deaths per 100,000 births. Yemen is considered to have one of the highest rates in the region with 5000 maternal deaths per year because of early marriage (Khalil “Early Marriages” 9).

A mother may suffer emotionally from early marriage where a girl may feel embarrassed, guilty and worthless. Fatimah, married at nine years of age, threatened to poison herself due to her suffering in the marriage. She expresses digust towards men and fears their presence. Young wives have problems with fear, depression, anger, trust and sleeping. These health problems are not restricted to young mothers, but also to their children.

Due to the young mothers’ low weight during pregnancy, many infants are born underweight. Underweight babies, or premature babies, show many birth defects and disorders. They are more likely to have underdeveloped body organs, respiratory distress syndrome, intestinal problems and bleeding  the brain. A premature infant may have abnormal features that do not resemble other normal infants. Their skin is transparent, thin and shiny. A premature female infant would have an enlarged clitoris and a premature male an undersize scrotum. They can also suffer from an undeveloped central nervous system, feeding intolerance and kidney immaturity.

Infants of adolescent mothers can suffer abuse and neglect because teenage mothers statistically give their children less parental care, and their children are less likely to receive proper nutrition and cognitive and social encouragement. 13% of boys born to teenage mothers are more likely to be imprisoned. 37% of all births have a maximum of 24 months’ interval between each birth, while 18% are separated by less than 18 months. If a mother is under the age of 18, then her baby’s chance of dying in the first year of life is 60% higher than that of a baby born of a mother older than 19. Infant mortality is inevitably high - 94.8 deaths per 1000 children (Khalil, Najat. "Early Marriage in the Yemeni Society").

In one case study, Fatimah*, married at nine, was promised that her husband would not have sexual relations with her until she began to menstruate. On her wedding night, she was locked in a bedroom with her husband who forced himself on her. Over the following couple of days, Fatimah tried to escape, but to no avail. She was captive in her husband’s house.

Forcibly locked in a bedroom with her spouse, Fatimah hated her husband and was scared of him. She used to hide in the kitchen’s Tanoor, or traditional oven, so she would not be forced into martial relations. She managed to convince her husband’s family to take her to her father’s house in the morning, only to find herself forced back into her husband’s house at night. When Fatimah refused to sleep with her husband, she would be beaten. Emotionally, mentally, and physically overcome, she tried everything to leave her husband, or make him want to leave her. In an attempt to repel her husband, she shaved her long black hair, but all she received was a good beating. Having resorted to threatening to poisen herself, Fatimah finally got the divorce she wanted at the age of 15. To this day, she lacks any sympathetic feelings towards men, causing her social relations to be limited and instable.

Early marriage causes society to loose a large number of women who could otherwise participate in the positive development of the country. Those female victims will not be able to raise a family in a healthy atmosphere. Many of the mothers and infants suffer from illnesses and traumas that will not fade away easily. Health effects such as these, both mental and physical, prevent females from taking up positions of employment and thereby improving their own lives, and the lives of the those around them.

*Names have been changed for the safety of the speakers.

Copyright (c) 2004 - 2005
Yemen Observer Newspaper